“He’s still the biggest name in politics… And for Republican primary voters, I think he can still resonate with a significant portion of the base. In a crowded primary like this, an endorsement from President Trump, while weighty, would carry even more weight.” — former Trump administration official Mick McKeown, a Pennsylvania native
PENNSYLVANIA — Today, POLITICO took an in-depth look at Trump’s influence in gubernatorial races across the country, emphasizing that, “the former president’s lingering hold on the GOP has the candidates running for governor crafting their campaigns in his image.” The piece went on to specifically highlight Pennsylvania’s crowded field of MAGA wannabes, saying, “Pennsylvania Republicans are racing to hire staff who may have Trump’s ear and to roll out the support of those who have a connection to him.”
This “slate of operatives with connections to Trump… finding work in the state” includes Trump’s former campaign manager, White House senior leader, and loyal confidant Kellyanne Conway (Jake Corman), Trump’s former campaign manager and White House political director Bill Stepien (Lou Barletta), the Trump campaign’s former Pennsylvania Election Day Operations Director James Fitzpatrick (Bill McSwain), and others.
In case you missed it, check out POLITICO’s most recent coverage of Trump’s “influence” on gubernatorial races across the country — including Pennsylvania’s “Trump primary.”
By Zach Montellaro and Holly Otterbein, 01/12/22
Donald Trump lost Nevada in 2020. He got beaten in Pennsylvania and Arizona, too. But in those swing states and more, the former president’s lingering hold on the GOP has the candidates running for governor crafting their campaigns in his image.
He came up regularly throughout a raucous GOP primary debate in Nevada last week, as candidates laid out Trump-like policy platforms, including frequent warnings about voter fraud. Pennsylvania Republicans are racing to hire staff who may have Trump’s ear and to roll out the support of those who have a connection to him.
And Trump’s potential endorsement is looming over primaries — starting with Arizona, where he will appear on stage with his anointed gubernatorial candidate during his first rally of the midterm year this weekend.
National politics seeped into governor’s races years before Trump came onto the political scene — and gubernatorial campaigns still have maintained a degree of unique detachment. But Trump’s influence over the GOP has rapidly pushed his signature policies and rhetoric into 2022 governor’s races — especially his false, conspiratorial claims that “election integrity” is under threat or even that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Republican candidates are parroting those claims while running for offices that will have significant influence over election procedures in their states, potentially including certification of future elections.
In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano — who rose to prominence by parroting Trump’s lies about the election and pushing for an election “audit” in his home state — trotted out two Trump associates during his campaign launch last weekend: former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis. Both have been among the most vocal proponents of conspiracies about the 2020 election.
A slate of operatives with connections to Trump are finding work in the state. State Senate President Jake Corman announced that his team included Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s final 2016 campaign manager, while former Rep. Lou Barletta hired the firm of Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, who led Trump’s campaign into Election Day 2020. Bill McSwain, who was a U.S. attorney during the Trump administration, hired former Trump campaign aide James Fitzpatrick to run his campaign.
Pennsylvania — where the primary field is so large that forum organizers had to cram two parallel rows of lecterns onstage at an event last week — typifies the expansive roster of Republican gubernatorial hopefuls running in swing states including Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada. Democrats control the governor’s mansion in all those states except for Arizona.
But even for candidates who don’t score Trump’s endorsement, winning over the former president’s supporters will still be key in a Republican primary.
“Not only do you not run away from that, you embrace that without hesitance,” said Arizona-based Republican operative Barrett Marson, who is working for an outside organization supporting former Rep. Matt Salmon’s gubernatorial bid in the state.
Former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), who has been critical of Trump since leaving office three years ago, said there “will be a concerted attempt by some candidates to consolidate Trump-first supporters, so in that regard there’s a Trump lane.” But Costello warned that that many candidates vying for the same group of voters could fracture the vote in a primary, and that the field is unsettled in his state.
“It’s important to note not all Trump-first voters are reliable off-year primary voters,” he added.
It’s unclear whether Trump will endorse in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary. He previously backed Army veteran Sean Parnell in the state’s open Senate race, only to see Parnell suspend his campaign after he lost custody of his children following his ex-wife’s allegations of abuse. He is now staying out of that race for the time being, though that could change.
But Pennsylvania Republicans expect a Trump endorsement, if it comes, to play a big role in deciding the primary for governor, said former Trump administration official Mick McKeown, a Pennsylvania native.
“He’s still the biggest name in politics, whatever you think about him. And for Republican primary voters, I think he can still resonate with a significant portion of the base,” he said. “In a crowded primary like this, an endorsement from President Trump, while weighty, would carry even more weight.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have cleared a path to replace the term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro being functionally unopposed for the nomination.
Democrats across the battleground states have sought to further highlight the candidates’ ties to Trump. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party routinely refers to the GOP contest as the “super MAGA” primary. And Nevada Democrats warned on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that the Republican field continues “to embrace those dangerous lies and instill doubt about the integrity of Nevada’s elections.”
Republicans also warn that battleground candidates will need to do more than link themselves to Trump if they want to win in November.